Doors have opened for Sidney Jansma, Jr. Some have closed, too. But the 1965 graduate of Calvin College said that God has guided him very directly and naturally through his life.
“I don’t spend a lot of time in self-analysis,” said Jansma. “I always know the end part and the God part. I have questions, but I have many more answers. God has taken care of me, the family, the company.”
This year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipient has excelled in making his business, Wolverine Gas and Oil Corporation, a successful and nationally respected company; been honored for leadership positions at state and national levels for the industry; and served church, school and community in numerous volunteer leadership positions.
“Sid has used to the fullest God’s gifts to him of optimism, intelligence, energy, determination, insight and decisiveness, combined with the integrity that permeates everything he does,” wrote attorney Claude Vander Ploeg ’66 in a nomination letter to the alumni association.
Jansma entered classes at Calvin College in September 1961. He never thought of attending anywhere else.
“My father had a sixth-grade education. I was the first in my immediate family to attend college. I loved it from the beginning,” he said.
He majored in economics—basically general business in those days—and fit in as many philosophy courses as he could, some with the legendary professors of that discipline’s history.
“I know exactly where I was sitting—in the back—of Alvin Plantinga’s classes on logic,” said Jansma.
He also credits the English composition classes at Calvin, hard as they were initially, for giving him a love and respect for communication.
“It dawned on me that English was probably the most critical of subject matters, because if you can’t communicate clearly, you limit yourself. I learned how important communication is at all levels,” he said.
He immersed himself in student life at Calvin as well, serving on student senate, helping organize the first dance in the history of the college in 1963 (billed as “square stepping”) and even launching the first student-to-student fund-raising initiative, titled Students Pledge for Knollcrest (SPK for short).
Set to enroll at the University of Michigan to gain an MBA degree, Jansma was thrilled when business professor Donald Pruis called the senior into a classroom and gave him the news of a faculty post-graduate scholarship that would cover all costs.
Through the Calvin years, Jansma was also developing a relationship with Joanne Heys, whom he met in high school and started dating prior to college. Joanne went to Calvin for one year and then to Blodgett School of Nursing for her RN degree. They were married for 41 years until Joanne passed away from cancer.
“She went to heaven while in my arms,” Jansma said. He had never dated anyone else and remembers the specific details and dates of the special days in their relationship.
“I was blessed with a beautiful marriage to a wonderful woman,” he said. “And my family carried me during the time Joanne was ill. I’m now being blessed again with another wonderful woman, Cate. We will marry on July 9, 2009.”
Jansma has four children: Sidney III ’88, working at Wolverine with his father; Betsy Greer ’92, who owns a wine shop with her husband; Philip (a ’91 Davenport grad), in the landscaping and underground sprinkling business; and Sarah Heynen ’96, also in the landscaping business. They and 13 grandchildren live in or near Grand Rapids.
Jansma’s father started Wolverine, a small company intent on finding oil in fields within the state of Michigan. The younger Jansma worked in the fields during summers and, after Calvin and Michigan, joined the business full time.
His father gave up the business in 1966, wanting his son to run the company, although the elder Jansma worked alongside his son until he passed away. Today, in Wolverine’s downtown Grand Rapids office, the original wood-and-frosted-glass door still hangs off a conference room exit, with “Sid Jansma” and “Sid Jansma, Jr.” etched on the bottom.
Jansma expanded the company’s reach to other locations across the United States, sold the business to a large utility firm, and a few years later reconstituted Wolverine to once again lead the business independently.
“It wasn’t challenging for me to work in a corporate structure,” he said. “I was able to leave and start over again with my original company name and my entire staff.”
In 2003, Wolverine experts working in Utah discovered the largest oil field in the United States in the past 30 years, a site Jansma has named “Covenant Field.” For this accomplishment, the company received national recognition from the oil and gas industry.
“The oil industry touches many facets of life,” Jansma said. “It is an industry that is fallible and imperfect as any other. But this is where God called me and my family. And we know that we can do this work without harming the environment. We know that we must take care of God’s world, and we do that. We know how to do that.”
“Sid has actively engaged the industry on both state and national issues, including testifying before Congress,” wrote Wolverine colleague Gary Bleeker. “He is a strong advocate for the industry while at the same time showing respect for God’s creation.”
Jansma’s generosity of time, talent and financial support is well known to Christian nonprofits—agencies, schools, institutes, denominational initiatives and his home congregation—but all are done with a humble spirit.
“Sid has always taken that deep and personal faith and, in the best Reformed fashion, integrated it with all aspects of life,” wrote the Rev. Steve De Vries, Jansma’s pastor at Plymouth Heights Christian Reformed Church. “His relationship with God is part of the fabric of his daily life.”
“I don’t intend to retire until God calls me to heaven, and I am content to do whatever He calls me to do,” Jansma said. “I love the church. I’ve had the privilege to worship in many traditions and in many countries. I want His church, His cause to grow. And I believe God’s given me the gift of leadership to play a small role in making that happen.”
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